SU drastically reduces college representation on Assembly

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College representation on the Students’ Union’s Assembly will be drastically reduced in new changes put forward by Opportunities Officer Anna Marshall. 

Assembly, the SU’s representative body for Durham students, will see the numbers of college representatives decrease from 35% to 22% of its total membership.

Each college will still send a representative to Assembly, but the body itself will be larger, with the introduction of 18 new academic representatives.

Durham SU said this change is down to academic affairs being “a key bulk” of what a Students’ Union does, with the wider student experience “not duplicated elsewhere”. 

The changes follow the findings of the SU’s ‘Democracy Review’, which cost over £7,000, involved mass surveys and resulted in a detailed report by consultancy firm MiraGold. 

The report found very high levels of college affiliation, with over 80% of respondents saying they were more aligned with their college than the SU, and that “students find the [SU’s] democratic systems clunky and difficult to navigate”. 

The proposal formed part of a motion presented to a Special Assembly on Thursday. The body voted indicatively to implement the changes, but could not officially pass the motion as not enough representatives were present at the Zoom meeting.

The SU had already passed changes to how policy is presented to Assembly, meanwhile scrapping plans to hold a referendum on changes this term.

Henry Miller, University College’s representative at the SU, called the increase in academic reps “a bit crazy”, saying: “My JCR have no idea of who an academic rep is and they’re not accountable to the same extent that they are to students as college reps or association Presidents […] I can’t see this being a positive step toward people believing in Assembly”.

The incoming SU Assembly representative for Stephenson College, Jon Chan, told Palatinate: “Colleges in Durham possess a unique position in terms of offering student experience. Since colleges are the significant points of contact for students and most freshers live in colleges, such a close relationship means that they better understand the needs of the students. 

“It is the colleges that can better reflect the popular will, and their voice should be properly respected. Undermining such a voice is hardly the right step to any reform, nor is it helpful to the already strained relationship between the colleges and the SU.”

Describing the decision as “regrettable”, South College representative Adam Langworthy said: “The College reps are very important because they collectively represent all students, with clear lines of accountability and communication through their Common Rooms […] The sheer number of such reps will water down that clearer, more accountable College representation, and I don’t think that the potential upsides are great enough.”

The Democracy Review came after SU elections last February, in which 58% of total votes cast were for Re-Open Nominations (RON). The SU subsequently decided to disqualify RON for campaign rules violations, and all these votes were subsequently deleted, including second and third preferences. 

Several colleges voted to disaffiliate from the SU following the controversy, with Castle JCR saying the SU’s actions equated to “election rigging” and “provides sufficient evidence that the DSU is institutionally undemocratic”.

Asked about the decrease in college representation, Durham SU Opportunities Officer told Palatinate: “The college experience is an essential aspect of our wider student experience, so it’s crucial to find a representative balance between college reps, course reps, cultural/identity reps and other student experience positions. Campus life means different things to different people and we need to strike a stable balance between the different Durham communities.

“Though many students do feel closely aligned to their college, academic representation is not duplicated elsewhere, unlike wider student experience. It felt important to increase the representation of academic positions because this should be a key bulk of what a students’ union does – we already have one Opportunities Officer, one Welfare Officer and two Academic Officers, because the academic representation is not done by common rooms.”

Clarification: This article previously said ‘SU Assembly representative for St John’s College, Jon Chan’, it has been changed to ‘The incoming SU Assembly representative for Stephenson College, Jon Chan’. We apologise and are happy to make this change.

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